In the post September 11, 2001
scenario, “Terrorism” has attracted the attention of law enforcement
authorities (LEAs) all over the world. In a society where Internet has
become a common tool of Communication, Information Dissemination, Business
and Governance, it is natural that “Cyber Terrorism” has also gained the
attention of LEA s along with Terrorism per-se and other Crimes.
Scope and Definition of Cyber Terrorism
Before we discuss some of the challenges
that Cyber Terrorism poses on the society and the LEA s, it is necessary to
understand the scope of the term “Cyber Terrorism”.
Cyber Terrorism has the following two
in Real World or Meta Space” using the Cyber Space as a conduit.
in Cyber Space” involving destruction of Cyber properties.
Terrorism in Meta space results in an
adverse effect on Meta society persons and property. When Al Queda terrorists
use Internet to down load the topography of the Indian Parliament building and
plan an attack based on such information or use Internet to communicate amongst
the members of the attacking team and their superiors, we are talking of a Meta
Society terrorist act using Cyber tools. Similarly when an e-mail chain is
set-off on the internet spreading a false story on the Godhra tragedy or a
website such as daliststan.org is being published, there is an attempted use of
Cyber space to further the terrorist movement in the Meta society.
On the other hand, when the hackers of the
Anti India Force of Pakistan attack Indian websites and deface them, we are
talking of a Cyber Property of an Indian being attacked. In a more sophisticated
attack, the website of economic significance such as the National Stock Exchange
may be disabled through a virus or a Distributed Denial of Service attack
causing stoppage of a vital commercial activity.
Some acts of Terrorism in Cyber space may
not affect the Metaspace properties directly, even though the psychological
impact of a well planned terrorist attack on Cyber property can be devastating
even on Meta society persons and property.
Since Meta society Terrorism laws are some
times inadequate to meet the contingencies of the Cyber Space and Cyber Society
Laws may be inadequate to deal with “Terrorist” acts, there is enough scope for
Cyber terrorists to slip between the two legislations and escape conviction.
The most important challenge before LEA s
is therefore to understand the legal framework applicable to Cyber Terrorism and
work within its limitations and yet meet the expectations of the society.
Additionally, like in the case of Meta
Society Terrorism, the LEA s will have to neutralize the motivating forces
behind the raise of Terrorist movements in an accepted civilized manner, not
providing an opportunity for Terrorists to hide behind human rights Activists.
This may require careful handling of the Intelligence related functions without
being accused of “Privacy Invasion” or “Censorship”.
Lastly given that the Cyber Environment is
built on “Communication” , Cyber terrorism is capable of being operated remotely
with a highly distributed network of operators and creating all kinds of
“Jurisdictional” problems relating to Intelligence gathering, Investigation and
Cyber Terrorism therefore poses a challenge
far different from what the LEA s are accustomed to and needs a well planned
Anti Cyber Terrorism Action Plan to prevent the country being devastated through
the invisible Cyber space attacks.
Let us look at each of these challenges in
a little more detail to understand the issues involved.
Laws Regarding Cyber Terrorism
Presently there are established laws that
govern the “Terrorism” in Meta Space. However, there are no special laws
governing “Cyber Terrorism”.
On October 17, 2000 special laws governing
Cyber Crimes became effective in India with the passage of Information
Technology Act 2000 (ITA-2000). Subsequently, the special act for Terrorism,
POTA was also enacted with effect from 24th October 2001. We need to
therefore look at the laws governing “Cyber Terrorism” within these laws and any
other associated legislation that may come into effect by cross reference
including the IPC.
Terrorism in Meta Space using Cyber space
as a conduit is to be governed by the laws of the Meta space such as POTA with
evidence gathered from Cyberspace as per the provisions of ITA-2000 which
brought in some changes in the Indian Evidence Act.
On the other hand, “Terrorism” in Cyber
Space is a different aspect. Unfortunately, when ITA-2000 was enacted, the focus
of legislation was not on “Cyber Terrorism”. ITA-2000 therefore addresses some
issues of Cyber Crimes but does not adequately address the issues of “Cyber
Cyber Terrorism under POTA
POTA defines terrorism mainly as an act
against the Government involving explosives or bio chemical weapons likely to
cause death of a person or destruction of property. These are more relevant to
the Meta society and extending it to the Cyber Terrorism is a laboured
Section 3 of POTA 2002 defines a “Terrorist
Act” with reference to
According to the section, “Terrorist Act”
is defined as any act or thing
With Intent to
unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India or
in the people or any section of the people
i) Using bombs,
dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or firearms or
other lethal weapons or
ii) Poisons or
noxious gases or other chemicals or
iii) By any other
substances (whether biological or otherwise) of a hazardous nature or
iv) By any other
in such a manner as to
a) Cause, or
likely to cause, death of, or injuries to any person or persons or
b) Loss of, or
damage to, or destruction of, property or disruption of any supplies or services
essential to the life of the community or
c) causes damage
or destruction of any property or equipment
i) Used or intended to be used for the defense of India or
connection with any other purposes of the Government of India, any State
Government or any of their agencies, or
d) Detains any
person and threatens to kill or injure such person in order to compel the
Government or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act;.
It is important to note that the intentions
to constitute an act of Terrorism under POTA include not only an act that
threatens the unity and integrity of the country but also to “Strike Terror”.
The definition is however conditional to the use of specific tools such as
explosives etc and also causing death or damage to certain kinds of property.
Unfortunately, the “Means” mentioned in the
above definition does not directly mention use of “Computer” or “Internet”
unless we try to extent the meaning of “Any other means”.
Further, by restricting the type of
property involved to certain class of property belonging to the Government, the
Act fails to cover cases of “Damage to Public Property” that can also strike
terror to the common man.
Today, terrorism is not restricted at
striking and damaging the physical targets of the Government. Striking at
“Economic Targets” and undermining the economy of the country is also considered
an important terrorist strategy. Also, many vital Information assets are today
owned by non Government sector and excluding them from being considered as
potential terrorist targets under POTA could be an oversight.
To give an example, recently there was an
attempt to create a “Run” on Global Trust Bank in Hyderabad by spreading a
rumour through e-mails. The same could have been attempted on any of the
Government owned Banks also. It would be wrong to say that an attack on Global
Trust Bank is not a terrorist act while an attack on Indian Bank would be so.
We can therefore state that the definition
of terrorism under POTA is not wide enough to cover classic acts of Cyber
terrorism involving hacking of websites of private sector companies since it is
restricted to “Explosives and Bio Chemical “ usage for destroying Government
property and Critical supplies.
Contrast this with the definition of
“Terrorism” given by FBI in USA which defines Terrorism as “The unlawful use of
force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a
government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of
political or social objectives… through the exploitation of systems
deployed by the target”.
Besides, the US Patriot Act which was
passed after the September 11, 2001 attack has also recognized the Cyber
terrorism angle by mandating the setting up of a national network of electronic
crime task forces, throughout the United States, for the purpose of preventing,
detecting, and investigating various forms of electronic crimes, including
potential terrorist attacks against critical infrastructure and financial
payment systems. In view of this clear definition, the LEAs in USA can use all
the powers under the US Patriot act even if a terrorist attacks a private Cyber
property of Yahoo or E-Bay.
LEA s in India do not have similar legal
support and are under a weak ground when it comes to handling Cyber terrorism.
In most cases of Cyber terrorism, they have to invoke IPC and use Cyber evidence
to prove the crime. This imposes all the restrictions that are normally
available at the time of investigation and intelligence gathering. With the well
known difficulties involved in capturing, preserving and presentation of
transient Cyber Evidence in an Indian Court, achieving conviction of a Cyber
Terrorist in India under IPC through normal courts is an unenviable task for the
To elaborate, we can take the powers
available to “intercept Communication” for the purpose of investigation. The
“Interception Powers” provided under POTA are far superior to the provision
under ITA-2000 and also the Indian Telegraph Act (Set to be replaced with the
Communication Convergence Act shortly). To invoke these powers, the offence has
to be defined as a “Terrorist Act” under POTA and therefore most of the Cyber
Terrorist attacks may be outside such powers.
The non classification of an offence as
“Terrorism” under POTA will also make it difficult to use the power to hold a
person who has funded the transaction or otherwise assisted in holding the
property belonging to the terrorist responsible for the terrorist act. If this
power is available, the LEA can force ISP s to block the terrorist websites such
as dalitstan.org or otherwise force the ISP s to cooperate in the tracing of the
Immediate action is therefore called upon
to include Cyber Terrorism also under the definition of “Terrorism” under POTA.
Neutralizing the Motivation
The terrorist organizations thrive in a
democratic society often misusing the freedom of speech guaranteed to them by
the state. In the Cyber terrorism scenario, this may be in the form of running
websites that publish false and mischievous information to alienate the public
from the Government so that the terrorists on the ground can carry out their
For every Sivarasan and Dhanu who carries
out an actual terrorist attack, there are several Nalini s who sympathize with
the cause of the terrorists and make the terrorist act possible.
LEA s have to therefore exercise a strategy
to silence the propaganda that sustains terrorism. The websites dalitstan.org
and Hinduism.org and the post Godhra e-mail chain distribution, stare in our
face as examples of such covert mobilization of public sympathy to anti national
cause. Unless the LEAs take steps to block objectionable content in web sites,
e-mail or chat rooms, it would be difficult to curb Cyber Terrorism.
Any thought of such actions to silence
propaganda will however attract an allegation of undue curbs on the freedom of
speech. It is therefore necessary for the LEA s to ensure that they tread the
middle path of protecting the public from malicious propaganda while at the same
time avoiding putting a curb on genuine public opinion that is opposing the
views of the Government of the day. This is a tough task.
One of the ways by which a propaganda can
be countered is to provide an opposing view in a manner which dilutes the impact
of the propaganda. For example, for every anti Indian view point on Kashmir on a
website, there has to be a counter viewpoint which should be made available to
every visitor of the anti Indian site. This can be done through an interception
at the ISP level.
Cyber intelligence gathering is another
area where the LEA s are often accused of violating the “Privacy Rights”. Any
evesdropping or filtering of communication will come under the purview of this
charge of “Privacy Invasion”. The LEA s will have to therefore follow a system
by which the intelligence gathering mechanisms work under proper supervision
with and safety measures against misuse.
FBI has in the past devised software in the
form of “Carnivore” and “Magic Lantern” to tap the communications that pass
through a suspect’s system. These have been objected to vehemently by Citizen’s
rights groups in USA.
In order to avoid similar accusations in
India, the LEA s should develop an appropriate strategy through which a good
public rapport is built up for such intelligence activities. One way by which
this can be achieved is by developing a Public participation in the intelligence
mechanism through accredited “Ethical Hackers” and “Cyber Patrol Agents”. This
would be helpful both from the point of view of the complexity of the technology
involved as well as the vastness of the Cyber Patrol area. Such Cyber Patrolling
Agents may be given responsibilities for monitoring content in specific chat
rooms, e-mail lists, websites etc.
Jurisdictional issues are the biggest
hurdles in any Cyber Crime investigations. In the Cyber Terrorism cases, this
problem assumes a new dimension since terrorists easily get a safe harbour in
another country to launch their attacks in Cyber space.
Hence even after tracing the origin of a
terrorist attack to a particular IP address it may be impossible to investigate
further and bring the culprits to book.
The only remedy for this is to “Counter
Attack” the terrorists through Cyber Space and destroy their infrastructure.
This is like a “Hot Pursuit” in a “Cyber War” and requires counter hacking
capabilities which can destroy the system of a terrorist or otherwise intercept
their communication capabilities.
Additionally, countries which have friendly
relations need to enter into suitable Anti Cyber Terrorism Treaties to help each
other when required. India can take a lead in this regard in forging such an
alliance in South East Asia which may include Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia,
Thailand, and Philippines etc.
It may also be worthwhile to develop a
mechanism within India to ensure co-ordination between different State Police
forces to enable them instantly come together in case of a Cyber Crime
investigation. If necessary, a separate national task force for Cyber Crimes
needs to be set up as an apex body to investigate Cyber Crimes.
In summary, Cyber Terrorism is a growing
menace in the Cyber space and poses, many challenges to the Law Enforcement
Agencies. In order to assist the Indian LEAs in improving their capabilities to
handle Cyber Terrorism, it is necessary to make appropriate legal changes to
include Cyber Terrorism under POTA, create a public support system for “Ethical
Hacking” and “Cyber Patrolling” and also accept “Counter Attacks” as one of the
effective strategies for curbing Cyber Terrorism.
Dated: September 2, 2002